The Art of Looking Up

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 3. Observing, Florence by Delaney1 Comment

When I was little, my mother said to me, “People miss a whole world of wonder by never looking up.” For whatever reason that little notion stuck with me. To this day, I find myself glancing toward the sky enamored by what others will walk by without a thought. The Uffizi is my new favorite place to look up.

On the second floor, I wander to the end of the long corridor which connects the many rooms where magnificent works are kept. Marble statues line the hall, but I find myself staring at the lavish frescos which adorn the ceiling. Each section is a mixing of nature and godliness. Roman gods, cherubs, and other mythical creatures enter the scene and often peer through the clouds at me. Around them swirls intricate patterns of colorful leaves, animals, assorted symbols, objects, and humans.

I’m standing at the bottom curve of the Uffizi’s giant U shape. This perpendicular corridor is not lined with expansive chambers, but windows showcasing the Ponte Arno shimmering below. I take in the golden light bouncing off the river to reflect on this selection of work. A German tour group passes in front of me. Their leader is a short, boisterous woman with a halo of copper curls. She stops in front of a large man, chiseled with muscle and alabaster skin. Behind him 5 men wear far fancier clothes, for they have some on. They hang above the window in dark shadows their eyes peering down out of their frames to stare at you with a look that says you should know who I am.

As the guide talks, mostly with her hands, some of her group gives a hearty laugh which bounds around the marble floors toward me. Others gaze out the window towards the sleepy river. As the tour proceeds around the bend they reveal a middle-aged couple trying to use a selfie stick to capture themselves with the Ponte Vecchio just off to the west through the window. Their smiling with teeth. They move on and a younger couple takes their place, they don’t show teeth. Then a family, making silly faces. Then some teenage girls, looking serious.

Small waves of people collide through the hall. I wander farther towards the edge, pushed by the tides of cultural sponges. I look up and the ceiling steals the show again. A trellis in the shape of a dome has been painted on the ceiling. Different flowering plants all cool greens with some sporadic red and white flowers crawl towards the pinnacle, a gilded peak with a small globe in the center. More birds than I can seem to count in more species than I know fly against a pale blue sky with soft clouds. Some rest on the trellis, grooming themselves or looking for food amongst the leaves. My eyes are overwhelmed, pulled around to finally settle on the beautiful gold detailing around the edges.

I stood for a minute slack jawed head held to the heavens as I tried to take in every detail. When I finally look around me the other patrons walk on by as they rush to take a picture of the river or a statue. It’s surprising how often people will walk by amazing treasures in search for the best picture they can take. I find myself asking how long did it take to paint 7 blocks worth of ceiling that some people don’t even care about cause it’s not as famous as the Botticelli’s on display a room away? How many painters did it take to complete it, as the next curve of the U starts to reveals a different style? How many people even notice the dome of plants and birds that sits along the river that held my gaze longer than any other work I saw that day? Who else is looking up?


  1. Delaney,
    As I read this post I was filled with total nostalgia. Of all the places in Florence to “observe,” I found the Uffizi to be the most difficult. Like you said, “my eyes are overwhelmed,” maybe at all the sheer beauty, I just genuinely felt overwhelmed. I never knew what exactly to look at…the art, the tourists, the view of the Arno, etc. I really wish I had looked up. The mention of Botticelli…I have a photo of the tourists in a mob around the Birth of Venus, rather than a photo of the actual painting. I really appreciate your criticism, “It’s surprising how often people will walk by amazing treasures in search for the best picture they can take.” I feel the same way. This was a really well-written piece, great post!

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